Google Maps, find me a (mental) shortcut

Remember those scenes in movies? Where the protagonist becomes aware of his (unfortunately not enough times “her”) special abilities for the first time. Time slows down. Everything around him seems to happen in slow motion.

In Wanted, James McAvoy’s character Wesley sees the wings of a fly flap, then shoots them off even as he has a gun pointed at his head.

In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves (Neo) “reincarnates” and calmly watches individual bullets come at him before stopping them in mid-air.

At that moment, the world starts making sense to them. They just, get it.

The way we are now, plugged into twitter feeds for our information about the world, and our reactions to the world, it’s like that.

Except, the complete opposite.

If you were born before 1990, think about how much information made its way to you on a daily basis. The newspaper, some tech newsletters that came once a week to your hotmail account, magazines every month. You had to go seeking news that was of interest.

Compare that to today. Twitter is literally a bottomless newspaper / magazine / newsletter. The limit is not number of pages, but willingness to keep scrolling. We now don’t just consume, we react. We “heart”, “retweet”, “share”. i.e. we have an opinion. Often without a clue.

Maybe you’re nodding your head thinking of the fools who fall for doctored videos and screenshots of tweets presented completely out of context. Let’s not even waste time on the whatsapp forward brigade you think.

Musk versus Ma

But we’re all as susceptible, everyday. The Jack Ma versus Elon Musk debate over Artificial Intelligence at the China summit is an example.

The way I knew this happened is through tweets with links to excerpts from the video. Usually I’d scroll past, but the tweets had opinion tacked on about how Musk had schooled Ma.

Search for “Elon Musk Jack Ma” on twitter and you’ll see a host of comments. Since twitter is US-centric, therefore global, and not available in China, most comments hail Musk and deride Ma. For example  “Musk is a true genius, Ma is just an accidental billionaire”.

There are hundreds of these tweets.

It’s possible that all those people commenting went through this process:

  1. Already understand what is documented about AI, including the opposing views
  2. Listened keenly to what Musk had to say, then to what Ma said
  3. Weighed the arguments. Decided who made more credible ones
  4. Tweeted

More likely process:

  1. What? There was a Musk versus Ma debate?! Awesome!
  2. Musk is obviously cooler. I mean come on, who’s this Jack Ma guy? He said what?! Haha!
  3. Tweeted.

Why bother actually listening to the debate when you can decide based on which side Elon Musk was on? The same process that has us pick up the known brand of shampoo at the store.

The Angel Philosopher

I first came across Naval Ravikant about 3 years ago on a podcast called The Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish. It was one of the best podcasts I have listened to. At the time, his name didn’t come up in usual conversation. Not the case anymore.

Naval’s stature as a wise person who has thought deeply about money, life and associated things has grown exponentially. It obviously helps that he has created significant wealth by being an early investor in names like Uber, Twitter among others, and leads a company called Angelist.

Anything he tweets now gets thousands of likes, retweets, and quotes in minutes. There was a tweet by someone who apparently overheard a guy quote Naval (without attribution) at what seemed like a first date. It almost feels like there are people agreeing with him even before he has hit ‘Tweet’.

Are people just that good at processing ideas and deciding they resonate or is that a mental shortcut in action? “Naval said it, so it must be a truth”.

And if it is true, which probably is the case given Naval is more credible than a randomly chosen individual, what are we doing when we play “fastest finger first” with reacting to a thought? Hoping some of that brilliant simplicity reflects on to us for having consumed it?

And if it indeed all mental shortcuts, how is it different from when religious leaders have millions wrapped around their fingers with their “How to live” truths?

I wonder if Naval now feels the pressure to continue to be prolific with his insights, because he is expected to. I’d love to ask him given the opportunity. Or would it even matter because he’s now a mental shortcut for all things money, and many things life?

I really don’t know.

The only way we could test this if one of them decides to troll the rest of us by deliberately packaging some of the obviously worst philosophies known, as their own beliefs and then stood back to see how many of us go into rapture praising / quoting the idea.

Further Viewing / Listening:

Shoot the wings off the flies – Wanted

He is the one – The Matrix

Jack Ma and Elon Musk Debate in Shanghai

The Knowledge Project Podcast – Naval Ravikant episode

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